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Disrespect or Freedom of Speech

Updated on May 5, 2017

In this paper the author will bring up the topic of flag burning; a topic that seems to be a conflict in our society today because of the idea of being able to express one’s emotions and use their amendment of freedom of speech. However, to others it has been a conflict for people to burn the flag to express freedom, because others view the American flag as freedom that our soldiers have given us today. If the flag does symbolize freedom and people are burning it to express the values, then by burning the flag does that mean we no longer have freedom? The author believes that there should be a better understanding and restrictions we should have within our freedom of speech. If someone is burning the flag to express himself or herself, what is the message that they want to reach out people? People doing it just makes themselves look like they are violent and seems like they are not trying to prove a point, but rather only for attention. The author seems to believe that the sociological concept used for flag burning would be deviance, which is any kind of behavior that violates social norms and is usually a sufficient severity to call for disapproval from most society. The reason the author believes it is using the concept of deviance is that flag burning is a disapproval from more than half of the society. Helwig, & Prencipe (1999) state with the results of the research that there is an impact on burning the flag on children who are learning what is approved and disapproved in society. The question that was asked to children about flag burning is if bothered or offended them and the three age groups were 6,8, and 10, so as the age increase the percentage to that question increased which is shown in table 4. The main ideas that are presented throughout the paper will be; free speech and legal status of flag use, child development, first amendment doctrine, constitution, and the natural rights. These main ideas are just ways that flag burning has affected society today and show the results of having to decide what is justified as freedom of speech.

Literature Review

In this paper, the author will be talking about the topic of burning the American flag, there are other authors who also researched the topic of flag burning. Gelber (2012) has stated that the purpose of his article is to see the attitudes in the political culture towards the flag use in the idea of having freedom of speech. Helwig, & Prencipe (1999) has stated that the purpose of the article is to see children’s conceptions and understand the symbolism of the flag and the consequences associated with wrongdoings towards the flag. Michelman (1990) has stated that the purpose of his article is to judge the choice on the understanding that the legal alternative entails a Supreme Court decision to prove the ruling under constitutional freedom of expression.

Free speech and legal status of flag use

This article explained what the first amendment is and how others use that amendment to express themselves, and what is the status of using the flag as freedom of speech by burning it. The author Gelber, (2012) states that the regulations with limiting speech does have an effect to strict analysis and the author has noticed that the first amendment’s protection for speech has changed over the time. The current legal status that the author says is by the standard of the political expression is that it is okay to burn the flag to express one’s free speech, and there is no law that can stop people from doing so, but other may argue with the ability of other able to burn the flag.

Child development

In this article, Helwig, & Prencipe, (1999), state that for their study they wanted to see the development of moral reasoning on the acts of unfairness. For that, they had to exam the importance of the flag to the children and then they would burn the flag to observe the children’s reaction. The outcome that the author was trying to reach was that all aged children would be respond quickly to the situation of the flag burning. The reason the author wanted to mention the children’s views about flag burning is because children tend to learn and mimic what adults do because they believe that is the right things to do. If an adult burns the flag then children who are young and barely understand what the flag represents will think it is okay, but if the children are older, they will feel hurt and bother by the actions of the adult.

First Amendment Doctrine

For this next piece of literature, Michelman, (1990) states that we should put ourselves back to the date of June 1989 during the Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson, when the majority of the court declared that it was okay to burn the flag because citizens are protected with the first amendment due to that fact that it was a very symbolic way to express one’s views. Under the section of the article C. First Amendment Doctrine it is stating that if the court had stood with the Flag Protection Act then people would not be allowed to burn the flag to express their freedom of speech. This is the section where it gets difficult for presidential candidates to agree on what is acceptable of ways to express one’s freedom of speech, and some have a hard time to make a justification on the punishments of flag abuse.


The author believes that sometimes people should be more informed about the constitution, and read it as it is written and not change the wording and the understanding just to have it prove what the person is trying to state, for this example it would be flag burning to express and use their freedom of speech. Michelman, (1990) states people who know what their twenty-seven amendments are will take that as an advantage to take out of context to prove what they are supporting and that anyone who is against them is wrong. The author sees this as a foolish thing for citizens to do to protect themselves since they need to take things out of context to not be in trouble. Again, the Flag Protection Act was brought up again within this article, and if people would stick to the act then it will cause future judicial doctrine to protect the flag from being used for expressing the freedom of speech.

Natural Rights

For the last piece of literature, Rosen, (1991) states the founding of the natural rights, explains that the founding fathers did not really explain in detail about what the amendments were and what was protected and what was not protected. From the explanation that the author gives, stating that the founding fathers did not elaborate on what they meant for each amendment, makes it easier for others to read them and interpret the way they would like to hear it. Even though we do have the Supreme Court judging and reading what the amendments state, others may not agree with them even though they are giving the standards of what is accepted. The author also brings up the natural rights of today; Rosen, (1991) states that people have the right to secure themselves by protecting their rights because back then it was a way to restrain peoples of their natural rights. The author believes that the Supreme Court should be stricter on the way they are present the amendments after reading them and understanding because later people will start to get out of hand, believing they have the rights to everything. People burn the flag as a form of freedom of speech, however it is interpreted as disrespectful instead of an expression of freedom.


The author seems to believe that the sociological theory that flag burning is using is deviance, which means any kind of behavior that violates social norms and is usually of sufficient severity to call for disapproval from the majority of society. The reason the author believes it is using the concept of deviance is that flag burning is a disapproval from more than half of the society. To older people flag burning in society is bad behavior and is breaking the norms that people before them had set society with values affected to the flag. The older people who are upset at the younger people wanting to burn the flag is because to them it symbolized freedom and being proud of what country we are. The flag has a meaning for each of the colors; white signifies liberty and equality for all, red is the color of fearless courage and integrity of American men and self-sacrifice and devotion of American women, and blue is the color of heaven, loyalty, and faith. There are thirteen stripes that have alternating colors of red and white and the section of blue, which is filled with stars represent a new nation. The stars are the symbolism of each states in the United States. When all the designs and the colors is putting together, the flag is representing the principles that it will always hold of liberty, justice, and humanity. When the flag has so much meaning for people and others end up burning the flag to represent their freedom of speech, it is going against the norm of the society which is causing disapproval to those people wanting to express their freedom by doing so. For society, not to disapprove those that want to express their freedom of speech and be accepted by the norms of others is by doing other things such: peaceful protesting, petitions, singing, chanting, not block in an entrance, or exit, and there are more ways to do so without burning the flag.


For the theory of deviance, the author would state that it does support the thesis of the paper, which was people who burn the flag as a freedom of speech but are disrespectful instead of freedom. Throughout other articles, there were multiple times where it did contradict the author’s thesis. The reason the theory does support the thesis is that flag burning is against the norm from older generations, for them the flag was freedom and success of obstacles they had over came from. However young generations no longer want to see it that way, but rather they see the flag to express themselves, by burning the flag. The author believes that the younger generations use flag burning as techniques to shows how they do not agree with the government. If the flag has many meaning and symbolizes freedom, does the flag loses the meaning of being free when it is being burned to express some other view? When the older generations, who had to struggle for the United States to be free, see that the younger generations are burning the flag, they fell like all the obstacles they had to overcome meant nothing and other do not appreciate the struggles they had to go through to be here today. The author believes that people do have the freedom of speech to say and express the way the people would like to, but it is thought to do it in a justified matter where people are not hurting others emotions and accomplishments. The theory does support each of the section of the literature such as: free speech and legal status of flag use, child development, first amendment doctrine, constitution, and the natural rights. The author believes that the theory of deviance can explain the social norm that was broken by people and see it as disrespectful.

Free speech and legal status of flag use

The theory of deviance did support the literature of Free speech and legal status of the flag use by, stating that the regulations of limiting speech has changed over the time. The author believes that there is a significance to that because since generation to generation has changed the norms to one another, and there has been a disagreement of what can be used to express one’s freedom of speech. The article had stated that the legal status of being able to burn the flag to be used to express one views was okay to do and there was no law to stop people from doing so.

Child development

The author believes that the social theory of deviance is a great example for this literature review section of children, the reason being that children are young and able to understand what is acceptable in the social norms of others without them being thought of being disrespectful. As children got older and understood the norms of society of burning the flag not approved, and when they saw the flag being burned they felt like it was bothering them. Therefor as the age of the child increased the more they were falling into the social norms and against what is expected of them.

First amendment doctrine

For this part of the literature of understanding the doctrine of the first amendment, the use of the case of Texas v. Johnson was in the favor of the acceptance of burning the flag as way to express one’s freedom of speech. The reason the theory would be able to explain this section of the court case accepting the burning of the flag is again the generational period of those who are older, and who do not believe of burning the flag and the younger generation who are okay with this technique of freedom of speech. No matter what the time is the older generations do have the standards set of norms that are already approved within society, and the younger generation want to be rebels to contradict them and therefore are disrespectful.


The constitution is another great way of how society goes against the norms by using the theory of deviance. People who do not accept the norms given by society such as the regulations that constitution gives by telling the people how to behave and specifically freedom of speech. Since the constitution is unclear to the people, they assume what they understand from it is correct and chose to go against what the Supreme Court had said. This would cause the people to become deviant and go against the norms of society.

Natural rights

This section of the literature will also be supported by the theory of deviance, meaning any kind of behavior that violates social norms and is usually a sufficient severity to be called for disapproval from most society. The natural rights section of the paper was talking about how the founding father never really explained in details of what each amendment was meant, but even though today the people do have the Supreme Court rules to follow they chose not follow it. As a society, they do not appreciate the use of burning the flag as freedom of speech because all the history the flag means to the United states of the struggles it started in beginning to make this nation, just for others to come and say they do not agree with things and use the flag as way to get things done their way.


In this paper the author has presented the problems about the usage of the flag to express one’s views as freedom of speech, but by doing so they are burning it to express themselves but others do not see it as freedom of speech but as disrespect. For others to burn the flag to express their views is against the norms of society because, as stated before, older generation are the one who usually set the norms for the younger generation. For them the flag means freedom and for others to come and burn the flag to “express” themselves because they are using their freedom of speech is not acceptable. Some suggestions that the author would recommend for future studies in this area is to get the respondent to explain themselves why they would be burning the flag and what it means to them after doing so. The author believes that the only way they would have done the study differently would be able to bring in more information of understanding why people would burn the flag and why others think it is not okay to do.


Gelber, K. (2012). Political culture, flag use and freedom of speech. Political Studies, 60(1), 163-179.

Helwig, C., & Prencipe, A. (1999). Children's judgments of flags and flag‐burning. Child Development, 70(1), 132-143.

Michelman, F. (1990). Saving old glory: On constitutional iconography. Stanford Law Review, 42(6), 1337.

Rosen, J. (1991). Was the flag burning amendment unconstitutional? The Yale Law Journal, 100(4), 1073-1092.

Theories of Deviance. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2017, from

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